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314                                                                                                     B. POLEVOI
uniform: tunic, sword-belt, Order of the Red Star, and
even the Guards' badge—and it all suited her so well!
She looked like a lean, good-looking boy in an officer's
uniform. Only this boy had a tired face, and his large,
round, lustrous eyes had an unyouthful, penetrating look.
Alexei gazed at those eyes long and hard. His heart
was filled with that unaccountable sweet sadness that
one feels on hearing in the evening the distant strains of
a favourite song. In his pocket he found the old photo-
graph of Olya, taken in a print frock in the meadow
among the white, starry daisies. Strange to say, the girl
in the tunic with the tired eyes that he had never seen,
was dearer to him than the one he had known. On the
back of the new photograph was the inscription: "Al-
ways remember."
The letter was brief, but cheerful. The girl was now in
command of a platoon of sappers, only this platoon was
not engaged in war but in peaceful work; it was helping
to rebuild Stalingrad. She wrote little about herself, but
went into raptures about the great city, about its reviv-
ing ruins, about the women, girls and youths who had
come here from all parts of the country to rebuild the
city, living in cellars, gun emplacements, blindages and
bunkers left after the fighting, and in railway cars, ply-
wood shacks and dugouts. People were saying, she wrote,
that everybody who worked well would receive an apart-
ment in the rebuilt city. If that were true, then Alexei
could be sure of having a place after the war.
The twilight was short, as it usually is in the summer.
Alexei read the last lines of the letter by the light of his
torch. When he had read it he threw a beam of light on
the photograph. The soldier gazed at him with stern,
honest eyes. "Darling, you are having a hard time-----
The war has not spared you, but it has not broken you!
Are you waiting? Wait. I will come. You love me. Love
me for ever, dear." And suddenly Alexei felt ashamed
that for eighteen months he had kept from her, a Stalin-
grad fighter, the misfortune that had befallen him. He
felt an urge to go down into his dugout at once and
frankly write her about everything—let her decide, and
the sooner the better. It would be easier for both of them
when everything was settled.